Which MLB Team Needs Yu Darvish the Most?
Starting pitching. Virtually every team in baseball needs some, and getting an impact arm that one can plug at the top of a rotation is not easy. Really good starters are hard to come by, whether it's in the trade market or through free agency.
This offseason is no different, although there are a couple arms still available who could help. Yu Darvish is one of them, and is perhaps the best free agent available on the market. Most thought he would have been signed weeks ago, but in this historically slow winter, Darvish remains on the shelf, waiting to be put into some team's shopping cart.
A recent report indicated there were six teams pursuing Darvish. We know about the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, but there's also a "mystery team" that rounds out the bunch.
So, which of these teams needs Darvish the most? Here they are ranked in order of least to most.
The Astros' rotation is already pretty loaded, with Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel leading a group that just won the World Series. Houston starters put up a collective 15.2 fWAR and a 4.03 ERA last season, both good for sixth-best in the majors, with Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton and Collin McHugh making up a decent back-end of their starting staff even without Darvish.
However, signing the Japanese right-hander would give the Astros cover should they lose Keuchel to free agency after the 2018 season. For the purposes of 2018, Darvish would add another dynamic arm to the Houston rotation and make them even more formidable than they already are. But as far as need goes, Houston probably could get by without him the easiest.
New York Yankees
Luis Severino emerged as a true staff ace in 2017, helping New York's rotation compile a 15.2 team fWAR, which tied the Astros for the sixth-highest mark in baseball. He was also one of just eight qualified MLB starters to post an ERA under three (2.98), so New York's staff is well-armed with the 23-year-old at the top of it. He's followed by Masahiro Tanaka, who declined to opt-out of his contract at the end of the season (smart move!), Sonny Gray, and CC Sabathia, who re-signed with the club to a one-year deal.
Adding Darvish would certainly lengthen the Yankees' rotation, while also giving them yet another arm with which to do battle against other top American League teams, like the Boston Red Sox, Astros, and Cleveland Indians.
The Cubs are going to sign a pitcher to replace free agent Jake Arrieta (although the pitcher they sign could, in fact, be Jake Arrieta), and have been linked to virtually every starter on the market. Chicago starters put up an 11.8 fWAR -- 10th best in baseball -- and a 4.05 ERA that was 7th-best in 2017. But without a replacement for Arrieta, the rotation takes a hit.
They've already addressed some of their pitching concerns by signing Tyler Chatwood to a three-year deal, hoping his control issues (4.7 walks per nine innings last year) can be brought under control outside of Coors Field. He's penciled in as the fourth starter, with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana taking the top three spots. Hendricks made just 24 starts last season, but was effective when healthy, while Quintana was pretty darn good after arriving in a pre-deadline trade with the Chicago White Sox (3.74 ERA, 117 ERA+ in 14 starts for the Cubs).
Darvish had been the Rangers' ace since they signed him out of Japan in 2012 until he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last summer at the trade deadline, and his departure left a hole at the top of the Texas rotation. Cole Hamels is now the team's No. 1, although he is coming off an injury-plagued season in which he threw only 148 innings, putting up a 4.20 ERA that was his highest since 2009. Martin Perez is lined up as the team's second starter, but he won't be back until May at the earliest.
Doug Fister has signed with the team as a free agent, but he's not a strong number three, with Matt Moore and Mike Minor the team's fourth and fifth starters, respectively. Texas could really benefit from bringing Darvish back for a second tour with the club, but frankly, even this kind of potential addition may not be enough to keep them in playoff contention.
Of all the teams linked to Darvish, the Twins need him the most. Minnesota surprised everyone by making the playoffs last year, and if they want to get back, they need a better arm at the top of the rotation than Ervin Santana. He also surprised everyone by going 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA, but a 4.46 FIP is an indication that he was the beneficiary of some good fortune last season, and a repeat performance might not be in the offing.
The Twins do have an exciting young arm in Jose Berrios, who put up a 3.89 ERA and a 3.84 FIP in 25 starts as a rookie last season. He's a potential top-of-the-rotation arm, but Kyle Gibson is currently the third starter on the team's depth chart, with Adalberto Mejia the fourth and Phil Hughes as the fifth. That's not enough to return to the playoffs in 2018.
As far as the mystery teams are concerned, there are other rotations for whom adding Darvish would be a boon. The Philadelphia Phillies, if they believe they can be wild card contenders in 2018, could certainly use him, but it's unlikely they'd sign a free agent starting pitcher to a five or six-year deal. The Milwaukee Brewers surprised everyone by finishing one game out of the National League's wild card spot and could certainly use him for the top of the rotation with Jimmy Nelson on the shelf. The St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks are other teams that could use an infusion of talent at the top of their rotations, too, if money isn't an issue.
Who is the mystery team? And who will Darvish eventually pick? Time will tell, and it can't come soon enough so we can actually light up the Hot Stove.